Women’s hockey play for OUA championship this weekend

Gaels sweep Nipissing, will meet Western in McCaw Finals

Stephanie Pascal (goalie) rejoices with teammates after Gaels’ 2-1 win over Nipissing.
Stephanie Pascal (goalie) rejoices with teammates after Gaels’ 2-1 win over Nipissing.
Supplied by Ian MacAlpine

With 18 wins now under their belt this season, the women’s hockey team needs just one more to crown themselves OUA champions.

This past Friday night, the Gaels secured their place in the McCaw Cup Finals as well as the U Sports National Championship with a 2-1 victory over the Nipissing Lakers in a tense matchup filled with emotion. The win completed a two-game series sweep against the OUA’s fourth seeded team.

Much to the delight of the home crowd, the Gaels hit the scoresheet early as forward Hailey Wilson tapped the puck in off a rebound four minutes into the first period. Holding onto the lead by a thread, Queen’s goaltender Stephanie Pascal managed to stop all 11 shots that came her way in the opening period, including a high wrist shot that clipped her shoulder and rung off the crossbar.

After multiple power play opportunities for both teams in the second period, Gaels’ Addi Halladay cashed in on a rebound and sent the puck into the top corner of the net.

In the third period, Nipissing pressed the Gaels and threw everything they had at Pascal. After pulling their goalie with seven minutes remaining, the Lakers closed the gap to make it a one-goal game.

But with the stakes higher than they’d been all season — and a chance at a championship on the line — the Gaels put on an admirable defensive showing to close out the game.

“You saw it right in our team,” Pascal recalled of the game’s closing minutes. “I don’t think Nipissing got a shot for the next couple minutes after [their goal] and just having confidence that we could hold on was huge.”

For head coach Matt Holmberg, it wasn’t the final minutes that impressed him so much – rather, it was his team’s play for the duration of the game. 

“That was as complete of a 60 minutes of hockey as this team has played in a long, long time,” Holmberg said. “I couldn’t be more proud with how they played.” 

Since they finished the regular season atop the OUA with a 14-3-3 record, the Gaels have done everything in their power to prove they’re the province’s best team.

After dismantling two strong opponents in Waterloo and Nipissing in the first two rounds of the postseason, Queen’s is set to meet Western in a winner-takes-all game next Saturday afternoon at the Memorial Centre. 

With his team howling with excitement after Friday’s game, Holmberg said his players’ happiness was both in response to the win and the opportunity to be crowned OUA champions. 

“It was a grind in terms of the series,” Holmberg said of the Gaels’ play against Nipissing. “I think there’s some elation there and then there’s some excitement to know we’re going to play for a provincial championship next Saturday, so, they’re in pretty good spirits.”

Even though they will be attending the U Sports National Championship in London from March 15-18, Queen’s isn’t satisfied just yet. Holmberg said the Gaels are focused on winning their first OUA banner since the 2012-13 season. 

“At the end of the day, we want to win a banner. We want to win next week. We want to earn our way to the national championships,” Holmberg said.

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